The terms stress and anxiety are used interchangeably by many people, and everyone will experience both at some point in their life. But although stress and anxiety have a lot of similarities, they are actually two distinct conditions and the terms are not synonymous.
Simply put, stress is your body's response to environmental or situational stressors, such as pressure at work or a troubled relationship. Your body responds to stressors by releasing adrenaline, which results in symptoms of stress such as a racing heartbeat, sweating, and changes in breathing.
Anxiety, on the other hand, occurs for no immediately apparent reason. Anxiety can be brought on by chronic stress, but it is not the result of a particular environmental stressor. Anxiety disorders are characterized by feelings of anxiety that are out of proportion to the situation and/or irrational.
The symptoms of stress and anxiety are largely the same, as in both instances they result from the body's fight-or-flight response kicking in. Stress, however, occurs in response to an outside stressor, and is largely a result of feelings of frustration toward the situation. Anxiety occurs without an outside stressor and is characterized by feelings of worry and fearfulness.
Stress can usually be addressed by removing or dealing with the stressor, but anxiety can be more challenging to treat. Most people can cope with ordinary stress and continue to function, while anxiety is more likely to interfere with your ability to handle normal tasks.
A mental health professional can help you determine whether what you're feeling is stress or anxiety, and work with you to develop an appropriate plan of action.
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